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On the Tube: Cartoon Network's superhero/lawyer 'Harvey Birdman' is on the case

Friday, July 05, 2002

By Rob Owen Post-Gazette TV Editor

Anyone disappointed that the recent live-action "Scooby-Doo" movie didn't have much of an ironic, spoofy edge will love Cartoon Network's new series "Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law."

    Television review

"Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law."
WHEN: 11 p.m. Sunday on Cartoon Network.


Creators/writers Michael Ouweleen and Erik Richter have taken a relatively obscure late '60s Hanna-Barbera character, Birdman, put him in a suit and tie and made him the first animated superhero/lawyer who defends other cartoon characters, from Fred Flintstone to Scooby-Doo himself, in court.

In Sunday's premiere, Harvey Birdman (voice of Gary Cole) must defend Shaggy and Scooby-Doo after they're busted in a "Cops"-like live-action segment. From a camera on the dashboard of a police car, viewers see an officer approach the driver's door of the Mystery Machine and hear Scooby and Shaggy laughing about a large green monster they've been trying to capture.

"Yeah, a real fattie," Shaggy says, fueling the cop's speculation that he's found a couple of knuckleheads high on marijuana.

Returning to animation, Fred visits Birdman and explains that he and the gang have a problem.

"Gang stuff," Birdman says, looking at Fred's ascot. "I'll take the case, but first you have to lose the colors."

At trial, Birdman faces off against a prosecutor who is portrayed as a drama-loving villain.

Though Shaggy and Scooby face drug charges, drugs are never specifically mentioned, which makes the writers work harder to be clever and still clear. Though "Harvey Birdman" airs as part of Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" block, they're not ready to completely sully the image of these beloved characters.

The show's mix of new animation and clips from old "Scooby-Doo" episodes is augmented by an additional live-action segment from Birdman's imagination.

"Experience -- only that separates us from animals," he says. "Well, that and product placement."

Then the show cuts to a live-action scene of a guy in a Birdman costume on the beach falling in love with a giant can of Tab. It's bizarre, but funny.

"Harvey Birdman" episodes only run 15 minutes each, but that's not a bad thing, ensuring that each one packs the maximum comedic punch. Future episodes find Birdman defending Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo against charges of eco-terrorism and Fred Flintstone against allegations he's a mob kingpin.

Bird-brained? "Harvey Birdman" is guilty as charged, but for viewers of a certain age with a slightly warped sense of humor, there won't be any objections.

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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